Module 2 – How Do People Respond to Injustice?

Overview

In this module, we’ll look at the variety of possible responses when a person or group feels a situation is unjust. These responses may range from silence to protest. The individual or group may attempt to bring about change by peaceful means, such as non-violent civil disobedience, or by violent actions, such as rebellions, riots, or vigilantism. The perception by many that a social, economic, political, and/or legal system is unjust often gives rise to a social movement.

Suggested Activities

Activity 1:
Citizens have sometimes “taken the law in their own hands” to punish behavior by others that they believe inappropriate or illegal. These acts of “vigilante justice” include activities such as the lynchings of African American in the South and of alleged rustlers and others on the Western frontier. Watch this video clip from The Oxbow Incident (based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark), a classic film about frontier vigilantes. In the movie, members of the self-appointed posse that mistakenly hanged three innocent men, listen to a letter written by one of them to his wife. What points does the letter writer make about law and justice?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5FG-tBO0B8

Activity 2:
Watch this PBS video about a student who engaged in an act of civil disobedience because of his concern about the environment. What do you think about civil disobedience as a response to perceived social problems?
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/march-20-2009/civil-disobedience/2473/

Activity 3:
Violence by others often produces responses aimed at throwing a spotlight on the wrongs committed against the victims. Sometimes those responses take the form of art or music. Listen to this song (“Strange Fruit”) about lynching performed by singer Billie Holliday. Does Ms. Holliday’s performance and the images of the song add to your understanding of lynching and its impact?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

Activity 4:
Social movements range across the political spectrum, and reflect the beliefs of those involved that a change in laws and/or policies is urgently needed. This brief introduction to an online course will provide you with an overview of social movements:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tllu-J9QTgw

For Discussion

1.  In your opinion, what are acceptable responses to a situation in which individuals or groups have suffered harm?
2. If the situation doesn’t affect you directly, is there any reason to get involved?

In the modules that follow, you will find information about various forms of injustice in American history. The resources provided can be used as a starting point for further discussion and for class projects.